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SBL Readies For 2001 Season
By ROBIN FINN
April 16, 2001
The Superior Basketball League tips off the season May 16, but there's already a lot to talk about. First, there will be a new administration, headed by league director Henry Neumann, a former franchise holder of the Guayama Brujos.
Another new face will be Miguel Laborde, who will be the tournament director and announced the season would start off with the Bayamón Vaqueros visiting the three-time defending champions, the Santurce Cangrejeros, at Roberto Clemente Coliseum. In fact, Santurce franchise holder Angelo Medina met with San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini for a close inspection of the coliseum.
"I did it [inspected the coliseum] basically because [it] is my main working site, either for my concerts or for the Cangrejeros," said Medina, who also is an artistic promoter in charge of such big names as Ricky Martin, Elvis Crespo, and other top entertainment stars. "We are going after our fourth-straight title and I want our fans to be there, so I want to have the coliseum ready for the season."
The league has been working hard for months to have everything settled for the beginning of the season. They have secured plenty of exposure for the league and made a whirlwind push for more sponsors after signing a lucrative TV contract with TeleOnce (local Channel 11) to transmit one game a week in prime time, which will include match-ups of the top-two teams in the league.
There's also a new website on the Internet to provide fans with up-to-date news on the league, plus stats and game results updated everyday.
Among the changes implemented is the new 24-second shot clock, which forces the game to be played at a faster pace with an entertaining tempo.
The season begins May 16 and runs until July 8 when it stops to allow the national team to compete at the Centrobasket tournament in Toluca, Mexico, July 11-15. Before that, the All-Star Game will be held.
"The site for the All-Star Game isn't determined yet. All I can tell you is it's going to be a fest for fans," said Neumann. "So far, we have stated the team that brings in more fans during the first 10 home games will be awarded with hosting the July 7 game."
The game will be different because it will pit the national team against the best players in the league. Along with the Centrobasket, it will serve as a tune-up for the national team when it competes in an invitational tournament in China April 19-24. However, with the recent China-U.S. conflict, there's no official word about the league's participation.
There's another invitational in Argentina, Aug. 6-9, where the islanders will play against the toughest teams in the world, which includes Croatia, Lithuania, Brazil, and host Argentina. This tournament will be held five days before the start of the World Qualifier, also slated for Argentina, where Puerto Rico will attempt to make it to the World Basketball Championships to be held next year in Greece.
The national team also will have a new face with Angel Toro's appointment as general manager, stepping in for Ricardo Carrillo, who resigned last week.
"This isn't new for me because I have worked with the Under-21 and Under-19 teams," said Toro, who also directs the SBL small-categories program. "There isn't much time, so I have to start working hard by watching all the players scrimmage against each other. We better trim the list of 27 pre-selected players." Toro said he plans to meet with team coach Julio Toro to discuss this situation.
Toro hopes Phoenix Suns center Danny Santiago will be available for other commitments the team will have. "We also have an invitation to play in the Goodwill Games," said Toro. "Yes, we are going there. It will be Sept. 3-9, in Australia. We won the gold medal at the Goodwill Games in 1994, and we are proud of that and strongly believe we have to be there."
There also will be some changes for the playoffs. Last year, the top-eight teams that clinched a playoffs berth entered a round robin. From there, it was the final-four teams playing in semifinals, with the top two with the best records of the series getting home court advantage. This year, it will be the regular-season records that determine who will play the most games on their own court. Under this new rule, if Santurce posts the regular-season best record, but finishes fourth in the round robin, they still would have the home-court edge for the semifinals and finals.
"We hope to have increased attendance this season and to improve on last year's," stated Newmann, saying 850,000 fans attended SBL games in 2000. "The goal is 1 million fans. I believe we can go after that target because of all the new rules and the fact our national team will be an essential part of the season."